Many years ago, I used to attend a wonderful Sunday night NA meeting in Southern California. This was a small meeting, as there were rarely more than twelve and never more than twenty attendees. Yet, in spite of its diminutive size, its impact, at least on me, was substantial. One could feel the spiritual gravitas in the atmosphere of the rooms. Also obvious to the practiced eye was the effort by nearly all who attended to be genuinely engaged with each other and the Twelve Step traditions. This particular assemblage of the afflicted seemed to be pregnant with hope and possibility.
Although there were, no doubt, several reasons for this enviable state of affairs, I was particularly fond of one idiosyncratic practice in particular. At this meeting (as at a few others like it) the individual tasked with leading the meeting on any particular week would begin by sharing on the First Step only. Every week, every leader opened with the same topic. And guess what? It never ever got old, and never even seemed repetitive. It appears there is an infinite number of ways addicts (like us) can find to crash our lives in flames.
I, for instance, am a disgraced former member of the evangelical clergy. Toward the end of my active addiction and in desperation for the next hit it was a common practice of mine to steal from the very church that employed me. Other friends at that meeting had similar stories. One story, as an example, involved the use of benzos liberally mixed with alcohol, which inevitably led to blackouts. What happened during those blackouts would be comical if it were not so potentially hazardous. My friend would describe in detail how he drank to black out almost every time he drank. After a night of partying, and losing his intellectual bearings and moral sanity, he would wake up in the morning and count it a blessing if he recognized the bed he was sleeping in, and it was another blessing if he could remember where he left his car. Most shockingly, he related that if he could find his car in the morning after such a riotous night, he would carefully and slowly inspect it for dents, dried blood, hair and torn clothing. Before completing that macabre ritual, he couldn’t be certain that he hadn’t run over or into something or someone during the previous night. There were countless other stunning recollections of insane behavior from that motley crew of grateful-to-be-clean and sober addicts. These admittedly crazy stories proved essential to my developing sobriety.
I considered myself lucky to have found and attended such an insane group in my early sobriety because the constant focus on insanity—paradoxically—helped keep me sane. For me, as for most of you, accepting that all hope of regaining control was gone (and was probably illusionary from the beginning, anyway) is, quite likely, one of the most difficult things we’ve ever set out to accomplish. Yet, being substance-free without true acceptance of powerlessness is a fool’s errand. While hope remains that we can still use drugs recreationally or drink responsibly we will try to do so.
For us, attempting to consume substances without loss of control and demoralizing consequences becomes far more likely when we forget those very consequences. Acceptance comes when we remember the pain, loss and shame that substance use always produces. Acceptance that substance use is unacceptable is the only sane option.